Game Time: 7:00 p.m. TV: CSNNW
Let's keep this simple. Here are the things going right for the Blazers right now:
- Some of the guards are having profound statistical outings. Mileage varies per night.
- J.J. Hickson is scoring inside and rebounding.
- Nicolas Batum is semi-poking his head out upon occasions on both ends, to good effect when he shows.
- Luke Babbitt is showing he can shoot the three-pointer.
Here are the things going wrong with the Blazers right now:
- Everything else.
In case you've been under a rock (or baking on top of one in Phoenix) "everything else" includes LaMarcus Aldridge being out for the remainder of the year undergoing hip surgery, guards not playing defense, guards not getting back in transition, guards committing turnovers, a clueless second unit (particularly on defense), lack of team rebounding, lack of talent and/or stamina at the big positions, extreme over-reliance on deep jumpers, not much adherence to any kind of game plan, rampant ball-hoggery, and the sinking feeling that there's nothing left to play for this year. Plus Portland point guard Raymond Felton, the only thing resembling an NBA playmaker on staff, will not play tonight.
This game is in Phoenix. The Suns are still in the thick of the battle for post-season seeding, currently the #9 seed but only one game behind the #8 Houston Rockets, so they have everything to play for. They're 6-3 this month. This is their first game back from a long and mostly-successful run of games on the road. Plus they have point guard Steve Nash, a Hall-of-Famer and former MVP-level player. He's had some hip problems but he rested for most of Phoenix's last game...presumably so he could come home and whip the tar out of the Blazers. Tonight he'll be facing the likes of Jonny Flynn and Nolan Smith. You know how bad that is? Portland would kill for Suns reserve Sebastian Telfair right now, particularly since Bassy scored 21 against the Spurs in Nash's absence. Naturally the Blazers will shift Wesley Matthews or Nicolas Batum onto Nash but that'll leave Shannon Brown free for dunks, Michael Redd open for jumpers, and/or Grant Hill loose to score in a thousand ways. We're not even counting Marcin Gortat, for whom the Blazers have no answer, or Channing Frye pulling one of Portland's two big men (and only rebounders) outside with his shot. I'm not sure the Blazers have kept an opponent under 47% shooting for weeks, and this was against teams that weren't primed to expose Portland's weaknesses. The Suns already shoot well without the Blazers' help.
The Suns are deep, they're motivated, they're skilled, and they're home. This has all the signs of an absolute massacre. I'm struggling to find any way the Blazers can find an advantage here. Even if they score big with guards those same guards will let the Suns have the points right back. Offensive rebounding could be a point of attack I suppose. Hit a billion threes? I don't know.
Given the circumstances, we're likely to see just how bad the Blazers are tonight. I can't imagine Phoenix failing to expose them. Unless the Suns are asleep at the switch, it's going to get ugly. I guess at least we won't have to paste on the sadly ironic smirk every time Portland's guards do something right in this game, knowing that it's bound to turn around in the end. It'll be more like, "Oh my gosh..." and then start drinking early. Or go get your taxes done. Or read Hunger Games while getting a foot massage. Whatever floats your boat...or at least keeps it from sinking.
Bright Side Of The Sun will give you a sense of this game's importance for Phoenix.
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